When we checked into The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel on a recent long holiday weekend, we instantly knew it was one of the top places to be in Southern California for chic locals looking for a short luxury break. The large pool in the center of the resort was enticing, but it was 180blu, a verandah bar with panoramic views that made the most of the hotel’s location atop a 150-foot bluff over the Pacific Ocean.
What we loved: 180blu has high-top tables and chairs to enable generous water views, as well as cozy couches accented with fire pits to protect against evening ocean breezes. When we arrived at 180blu on a clear-blue September Saturday, we found it filled with smiling, stylish people enjoying cocktails such as Yuzu Fresas (that’s Stoli Citros vodka with strawberry and lemon) and Mojito Cuzcos (think Bacardi rum with cucumber, lime and mint with a taste of Midori) in the bright sunshine.
The resort, in Dana Point, CA, is set close to the artist colony of Laguna Beach, which is filled with great restaurants and art galleries. Rent a car; there’s plenty to do if you want to drive up and down the coast to explore local farmers’ markets and shops or to head over to nearby Newport Beach for some upscale shopping and sightseeing. But we found during our brief stay that there was enough at The Ritz-Carlton to keep us occupied. Our Oceanfront Guest Room had a balcony, all the better to stare out over the ocean for a few hours with a glass of wine in hand and bossa nova playing on the CD player. Our view also included a verdant lawn where children played badminton and croquet; disappearing only periodically when a shuttle would come around to take them down to the beach.
If you’re going all out, as all good VIPs should do for their holidays, we suggest you reserve a one-bedroom Ocean View Suite; at 1,125 square feet, it has a large living room, separate dining room for six, and the master bedroom has its own balcony or patio. Even better, opt for The Ritz-Carlton Suite. At 1,550 square feet, it has one bedroom, 1½ baths, a wood-burning fireplace in the living room, a dining room for six and a separate pantry for private-service entry. Guests here also have access to the Club Lounge, which is also oceanfront and has its own fireplace. Other amenities include dedicated concierge service and ongoing culinary offerings, such as breakfast, snacks, evening hors d’oeuvre, desserts and cocktails.
Making special arrangements for your A-listers? Contact the director of sales for leisure travel, Amy Esnault ([email protected]; 949-240-2000, ext. 5838) or the senior sales manager for leisure and business travel, Karina Amparan ([email protected]; 949-240-2000, ext. 5022). The hotel is run by General Manager Bruce Brainderd; luxury travel advisors can contact him through his executive assistant, Julie Lytle (j[email protected]; 949-949-2000, ext. 5267).
|The Monarch Pool is one of two outdoor pools at Laguna Niguel.|
Back to the hotel’s amenities: We thought that 180blu was a “wow,” but we also fell in love with Raya, the bustling fine dining restaurant at the hotel, which was heavily populated with locals enjoying celebrations (so be sure to reserve a good time slot when you make your hotel booking). We loved the lobster tacos and miso Alaskan black cod, and that veggies on the menu come from local California farms. Nice Touch: Raya has arched floor-to-ceiling windows that provide fabulous views of the ocean, as does its accompanying bar.
Another culinary option at the hotel is Eno, a SoCal-style wine-tasting room serving flights of wine as well as a variety of chocolates and cheeses.
If you’re anxious to explore the area, the head concierge, Olga Mason ([email protected]; 949-240-2000, ext. 5360) can use her contacts as far away as San Diego to arrange for hard-to-get dinner reservations or sold-out concerts out of town. On-site, she can also have your room decorated with rose petals and candles, should you wish to pop the question in just the right environment.
Great news for families: If you’ve been to The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, which launched the hotel company’s Ambassadors of the Environment program, you’ll be happy to know that Laguna Niguel has its own take, with 15 eco adventures around Southern California.
More family matters: On our visit, we saw several guests checking in with their dogs, and when we discovered that the hotel has a dedicated pet program that provides the pets with their own food bowl, bed, toys and even a loyalty card (not to mention a dedicated food menu), we knew why. Note that there is a nightly boarding fee as well as a one-time pet cleaning fee per stay. Fido is welcome but doesn’t get to romp irresponsibly: He’s got to be on a leash or in your arms in public areas, and he can’t come into the restaurant or watch you drink at the bar, nor can he exercise with you in the fitness center. But we think you’ll find the paths around the hotel (maps provided) to be a fabulous treat for you both, and a little cool ocean air won’t hurt either of you.
The hotel’s spa is true to its oceanfront location; all 12 treatment rooms have water features and a tranquil, Pacific vibe. If you have questions about specific treatments, get in touch with the spa’s supervisor, Carly Mitchell ([email protected]; 949-240-2000, ext. 5063), who might just suggest the hotel’s Signature Massage, which is designed to ease chronic muscle fatigue and pain. Insider Tip: The lead massage therapists at the hotel are Heather Clarke and Donna Hess, while the lead esthetician is Lola Clark. Kids aged 13 and younger can book a Tween Manicure and Pedicure. Those between the ages of 14 and 17 can enjoy a massage or facial but only if a parent is in the treatment room.
When to go: The Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach runs from July 7 to August 31. During this festival, local artists display their original works of art and real people dress up to look identical to the ones in classical pieces of art. The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel offers a useful package for the event that includes seating for the Pageant of the Masters Stage Performance and, of course, accommodations. Book a year out for this event for optimal reservations. Take note as well that the hotel’s peak season is from July 1 to September 5.
Getting There: The hotel is midway between Los Angeles and San Diego; the closest airport is Orange County’s John Wayne, 30 minutes away.